Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Nashville Unlimited 2014

Nashville Unlimited Christmas is a tradition that has evolved over the last 15 years and one I've latched onto over the last six or seven of them.

Dave Pomeroy is a long-time, in-high-demand, Nashville session bass player. If you've listened to country music recorded in Nashville over the last 30 years or so, there is a good chance you heard Pomeroy's work on the recording. He also toured for years as a member of Don Williams' band.

While looking for a charity in 1993 to donate money generated by his Christmas concerts and recordings, Pomeroy became aware of Room In The Inn. Two decades later, he openly states his life has been changed for the better and has developed a much greater awareness of the moral and social issues addressed by Room In The Inn. I can state unequivocally I feel the same way - though the slap to my head came about 5 years after it did for Dave.

Each December since 2000, Pomeroy has hosted the “Nashville Unlimited Christmas” concert at Christ Church Cathedral. The production comes across as professional yet informal - though I'm sure the behind-the-scenes logistics may drive one to pull out their hair. Pomeroy calls in an amazing and diverse array of musicians and singers to volunteer a few minutes for a great cause and incredible evening of music. Though many think of Music City as just a country town, Nashville Unlimited has proven to all that the scene is far richer than that. Country is played certainly - but jazz, R&B, big band, rockabilly, instrumentals, a capella songs, etc. are often heard the same evening.

The show isn't heavily promoted, and no tickets are sold. Folks are welcome into the church, and donations are collected. The only reserved, VIP seats are in the first few rows of pews. In those pews sit many of the individuals helped by Room In The Inn's support programs.

Through this simple approach, Pomeroy's efforts have raised in excess of $250,000 to help Room In The Inn and their outreach efforts to the homeless and marginalized of Nashville.

After missing the 2013 concert, I was pleased to attend again this year on December 9th. Pomeroy opened the show with only his bass and vocals. He opened with the traditional O Little Town Of Bethlehem followed his original and fun I Wish It Could Always Be Christmas.

Lorianna Matera (Facebook)was then introduced to sing Willie Nelson's Pretty Paper.

I wasn't familiar with the next performer, songwriter Alan Rhody (web). He performed two of his own songs - White Water and Christmas to Christmas. I learned the latter has been recorded by Lee Greenwood and Toby Keith - ehh, not really two of my faves though hopefully the periodic royalty check is good for Rhody. The song was also recorded, however, by Tanya Tucker. OK, now we may be getting somewhere.

Danny Flowers (Facebook), who wrote the classic Tulsa Time and toured with Pomeroy and Don Williams, then played two songs that were just stunningly powerful - All I Want Is Jesus and I Am Free Of That Today.

Pete Huttlinger (web | Twitter), former guitar player in John Denver's band, then played his original First Light - a guitar instrumental with brushes-on-a-snare accompaniment. He followed it up with an instrumental version of the traditional Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.

Pomeroy then brought out Doug Seegers (Twitter)- an artist whose story I knew a bit about but whose music I'd not yet heard. The short story is that Long Island native Seegers found himself as a busking Nashville street musician. He was noticed by a Swedish media team visiting Nashville, was video'd performing one of his songs, captured a fan base in Sweden which led to a Swedish recording contract and is now a touring performer in the US and abroad.

His story was picked up by several media outlets including Peter Cooper from The Tennessean and Rolling Stone. His Swedish album has now been released in the US on Rounder Records. With part of the audience currently living a life that has more in common with Seegers' past than my past, present or future (hopefully), his songs really hit home.

Seegers opened his trio of songs with his sad but Christmas-influenced song, Daddy's Still Around.

He then played Down To The River, the same song he first played for his new friends from Sweden. The closer for the set was a new, yet-to-be released song titled Walking On The Edge Of The World written about a close friend who committed suicide.

Soul singer Charles "Wigg" Walker (web | Twitter) then took us to church. He absolutely stunned the crowd with his version of O Holy Night. and closed with a grooving version of I'll Be Home For Christmas.

Country icon Brenda Lee then took the stage as the show headed for its conclusion. She started with the classic Jingle Bell Rock.  She then asked for volunteer singers - and ended up with about a dozen of them on stage - to help her with Santa Claus Is Coming To Town. She closed with two of her big hits from decades ago - I'm Sorry and Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree.

The closer was Nashville Mandolin Ensemble - the one group I look forward to hearing more than any other each year. The music of the multi-member mandolin "orchestra" is not what one may think it might sound like. NME isn't bluegrass. It's truly orchestral music with songs ranging from The Beatles to Bach to mandolin renditions of other world music.

While they generally play the same set of songs at each annual concert, I can close my eyes and enjoy them as if I'm hearing each for the first time. The list of bad Christmas albums by many performers is a mile or more long. But the one by NME is not in that list. Gifts is excellent - yet sadly and ironically is out of print. I often encourage folks to seek it out on ebay or the like.

Pomeroy and NME then asked the crowd to join them in singing Silent Night to close the 2-1/2 hour show.

For the last couple of years, I've kept a badge at the top right of this blog for Room In The Inn. The graphic includes a simple link to their website, and I hope a few folks have been intrigued enough to follow the link. If you live in the middle Tennessee area and are reading this post, I encourage you to visit the site, learn about what RITI does, and consider making a donation at the Support link.

If you live outside of Nashville, I'm sure they'd RITI would appreciate your support. But perhaps consider finding a similar organization where you live and give to that group. A gift as simple and calendar-relevant as $20.14 would definitely be appreciated - especially as the temperatures continue to drop over the next few winter months.